Correcting Common Power Clean Mistakes Through Training
Created by John Abreu, Canadian Sport Institute Pacific Strength and Conditioning Coach August 2015
The power clean has long been a staple of many physical preparation programs. It is widely recognized for its efficacy as a whole-body exercise, contributing to the development of power production qualities, motor unit recruitment, rate of force production, eccentric force attenuation, and movement coordination.
However, the power clean does present its own particular issues, and the movement skill can present a steep learning curve for some athletes. Moreover, the power clean needs to be performed with a certain degree of load and velocity (and thus, competency), in order for the benefits of the lift to be fully realized. This presents another issue - how does a coach program around an athlete who is still developing technique, without compromising muscular work?
The following exercises serve dual purposes: reinforcing proper mechanics and posture while allowing the athlete to complete some muscular work in training. The exercises are also presented in order of increasing complexity.
Figure 1: Snatch-Grip Deadlift Start Position
Maintaining proper back posture
Transition between first pull and second pull
“Pulling” the bar (bending at the elbow too early)
Maintaining correct bar path
The snatch-grip deadlift offers a lot of benefits as an exercise. Similar to a conventional deadlift, it helps develop posterior chain, grip, and core strength. It also lends itself to being a great exercise for reinforcement of proper technique for the Olympic lifts, whether it be the snatch, or the clean.
The wider snatch grip places the athlete in a deeper starting position (Figure 1 - Snatch-Grip Deadlift starting position), and if coupled with adequate load, it ultimately puts them in a situation where they can create less leverage to move the bar around the knees by using their arms, thus forcing them to transition through the knees through re-positioning their legs (Figure 2 - Snatch-Grip Deadlift transition). In order to maintain that bar path around the knees during the transition, the athlete must also maintain proper posture over the bar to avoid unconsciously pulling the bar into their body too early and scraping their knees.
Another benefit of the snatch-grip is that the hand placement places the arms in a position where it is not as easy to bend at the elbow in order to “pull” the bar. The same wide grip also forces a greater demand of the back musculature for scapular retraction, allowing the athlete to keep the bar close to their body.
Figure 2: Snatch-Grip Deadlift Transition
Clean and Front Squat Complex
Figure 3: Rack Position
Catching bar in proper “rack” position
"Shuffling” feet too wide during catch
Comfort “getting under” the bar to catch
Complexes are a great way to reinforce technique and posture, and can also be used to improve work capacity. A clean and front squat complex affords a coach versatility in programming, as it can be done from a variety of starting positions (hip, hang, below-knee, floor). The added work involved with performing what is essentially two exercises also makes the exercise inherently load-limiting, ensuring that athletes perform the exercise at a more adequate load, specially when it is programmed in a higher-volume phase.
The segmented transition between the clean and front squat puts the athlete in a situation where they will begin to associate the posture in a front squat with a more favourable catch position in the clean. Initially, the complex also provides enough temporal spacing between the two lifts for the athlete to adjust their posture and foot placement as they transition from catching the clean, into a front squat. As the athlete becomes more comfortable, and the postural association takes place, the athlete will spend less time transitioning between lifts, as their own movement strategies will have begun to associate the “rack” position (Figure 3 - Rack position) and the foot placement with a more optimal catch position. At this point, the athlete should only be stopping in between the two exercises in order to stabilize the bar.
This complex also serves as a great introduction for athletes looking to progress to a full clean, acting through similar association mechanisms that reinforce good posture through depth.
Figure 4: Stop Clean Position
Transition from first pull and second pull
Maintaining vertical bar path
Decreasing reliance on stretch-shortening cycle in hang clean
Maintaining posture over the bar
The stop clean is used as a transition exercise for those using a top-down approach for teaching a power clean. The exercise involves the athlete lifting the bar from the floor to just past the knees and against their thighs, stopping at the point where the second pull would begin. At this point, the athlete comes to a full stop before completing the lift with an above-the-knee (hang) clean (Figure 4 - Stop Clean position).
The stop clean can be used to teach the transition between first and second pull by removing some of the speed element associated with the first pull, the athlete can focus more on staying over the bar, and raising the bar height by using their lower body. Furthermore, it can help associate the bar coming in contact with the thighs through the second pull, and also help those who are having issues with the bar “bouncing” away from their hips, as the second pull will start from a dead stop. The correction of both of these issues will help athletes maintain a more vertical bar path throughout the lift.
Lastly, the stop clean can serve the purpose of getting athletes accustomed to generating impulse from a static position in preparation for what they will have to do in a clean from the floor, helping them separate from any reliance on the stretch-shortening cycle that they may have developed through the use of a hang clean.